Keeping with tradition of those invested in the Iraq war criticizing ever withdrawing any troops, retired Army Gen. Jack Keane, said to be one of the key architects and advocates for President Bush’s “surge” in 2007, attacked President Obama for announcing he will order all troops out by the end of the year. “I think it’s an absolute disaster,” he said, adding, “We should be staying there to strengthen that democracy.”
Absent in that line of thinking of course is that it was, in fact, the democratic process in Iraq that ultimately guided the president’s hand toward total withdrawal. The Iraqis would not grant U.S. troops immunity from Iraqi law should they stay past 2011, a prospect the United States military could not accept. Still not seeming to understand this concept, Keane went on Fox News last night and again attacked Obama, saying the U.S. needs troops there to “preserve the democracy.” But when host Brett Baier pointed out that this was a decision made by a democratically elected government, Keane claimed it wasn’t about immunity:
BAIER: And when they say — the administration says, hey, it wasn’t our deal. The Iraqis said we couldn’t say.
KEANE: Look, the fact that we pushed away from Iraqis in 2010 is what led us to the issue in 2011. It wasn’t the issue over immunity. That was a side issue. The real issue was the Iraqis believed that we, the United States, were not serious about the long-term strategic partnership with them.
Oddly, about an hour-and-a-half earlier over on CNN, Iraq’s ambassador to the United States noted, “we have a democratic system” in Iraq, adding that immunity was an issue and that indeed, the Obama administration was “very serious” about keeping U.S. troops in Iraq:
AMB. SAMIR SUMAIDAIE: The reality is we have a democratic system. There was consultation. There this is what the leaders of the main blocks of parliament decided.
WOLF BLITZER: They didn’t want to give immunity to U.S. troops remaining.
SUMAIDAIE: No, they didn’t. Iraqis are very touchy about, given their recent history, very touchy about independence and sovereignty. This is what they came up with. We have to make it work. And I think, as I said, this is the end of an era, the beginning of another.
BLITZER: Did the Obama administration…seriously want to maintain a modest U.S. military presence in Iraq? […]
SUMAIDAIE: To judge by the serious negotiations, conducted by the American ambassador and by the commander of the American forces, yes, they were very serious and very positive.
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So a democratically elected government decides democratically to put conditions on a continued American presence in Iraq past 2011, conditions that the U.S. government declined. But according to Keane, Obama should have ignored that request, and kept U.S. troops there to “preserve” Iraq’s democracy.
Eric Martin at Democracy Arsenal boiled it down for those like Keane who can’t seem to let go of Iraq. “Despite what our preferred policy outcomes might be, a continued US presence in Iraq is not a popular position amongst Iraqi lawmakers/voters,” he writes, adding, “Simply put, Maliki lacks the political support to push for such an agreement.”